chapter  2
10 Pages

Theoretical approaches to the biopic

WithKaren Hollinger

This chapter outlines the major theoretical questions that dominate critical discussions of the biopic, such as the issues of progressive/regressive genres, generic evolution, taxonomies of different subgeneric categories, and basic structural features. I argue that some of these approaches to genre study have not always been useful in dealing with the biopic. For instance, the notion of labeling the biopic as a progressive or regressive genre seems to ignore the complex nature of the generic form as it attempts to open itself up to different interpretations by a wide audience. Evaluative approaches in general tend to present genres as inexorably moving from older simplistic regressive portrayals to more recent complex revisionist films. This paradigm works to support the idea that there are good and bad genres as well as good and bad stages in a genre’s evolution. A more useful approach has been the idea of determining the basic features of a genre and establishing taxonomies of sub-genres that comprise its corpus of major works. The chapter goes on to consider the major sub-genres of the biopic with particular consideration given to how biopics of women fit into different categories. It also outlines the prominent formulas and conventions that dominate the genre.